My report this week is about land. The value of land, the way government decisions on land can benefit their friends, and the way that zoning of land can drastically affect its value.
Recently, the Opposition brought forward facts around the massive selloff of government lands on Burke Mountain, lands that were sold primarily to balance the provincial budget. Selling off surplus lands as a way of making ends meet is short-term thinking that few citizens would support. This becomes even more questionable when it is discovered that these very valuable lands were sold at hugely discounted prices to a friend of the BC Liberals.
These lands were valued through a government-commissioned assessment at $128 million. Instead of following the advice of the real estate professionals to keep the lands on the market for the length of time needed to ensure a full value offer, the BC Liberals decided to stop the sale. The whole parcel was then purchased for only $83 million. That’s $43 million dollars of revenue to the Crown that was lost.
But who was the successful bidder? A BC Liberal donor who has donated nearly $1 million to the party.
This situation reminded me of the importance of proper oversight of all government’s dealings with real estate, and the dangers of our current system for managing changes to lands within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
Municipal zoning decisions, for example, are made by elected and accountable officials in a very public process following strict rules. This is the way every zoning decision should be made.
And this is why so many people are concerned about the BC Liberals’ meddling in the ALR. Decisions made around releasing lands from the ALR in the Kootenays are no longer required to meet a strict standard; the rules for changes are now ill-defined and do not put agriculture as a top priority. Land released from the ALR can increase significantly in value, so these decisions must be made with the greatest of care.
But to add further fuel to the fire, the people who will make these important decisions are political appointees who will operate without clear guidelines, public process, or oversight. This could result in decisions that do not put the best interests of the public first.
So much depends on governments developing legislation and processes that ensure that public interest is paramount. Unfortunately, that has not been the record of this government.